What is bribery?

Bribery is the act of offering a gift or advantage in order to induce someone to act in a way that breaches the law or is dishonest. The gift does not have to be monetary; it can include any kind of benefit such as hospitality, a favour or other type of “undue reward”. Not every gift or reward is considered a bribe.

Examples of bribery include:

  • Paying an RMS employee to let you cheat on a driving test.
  • Paying a customs official to speed up the passage of goods through a port.
  • Employing a public official’s son to influence the award of contracts.
  • Paying the travel expenses of doctors to convince them to prescribe certain products.


What is corruption?

Transparency International defines corruption as the “abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. Corruption occurs when someone who has been granted official powers, either public or private, exploits them for his or her own benefit. Bribery is a common type of corrupt conduct. Other examples include embezzlement and extortion.


Corruption and international law

Corruption has devastating global consequences. It erodes trust in the public sector, weakens democracy and slows economic development. It is in the interest of all nations to respond to the threat posed by corruption and enhance anti-corruption frameworks within their political and legislative systems.Bribery and Corruption Offences

The United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) is the only binding international treaty dealing with corruption. The UNCAC covers five main issues:

  • Preventive measures directed at both the public and private sectors.
  • Criminalisation and law enforcement.
  • International cooperation.
  • Asset recovery aimed at returning assets to their rightful owners.
  • Technical assistance and information exchange.

The vast majority of United Nations member states are party to the convention, and Australia ratified the UNCAC in 2003.

Other important anti-bribery Conventions include the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. This Convention aims to suppress bribery in the international corporate sphere.


Commonwealth laws against bribery

Commonwealth laws in Australia such as the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) criminalise corrupt conduct both domestically and internationally.


Domestic bribery

Section 141 of the Criminal Code makes it an offence for a person to dishonestly provide, offer, or cause a benefit to another person with the intent to influence a Commonwealth public official in the exercise of the official’s duties.

Under section 141.1(3), it is also an offence if a Commonwealth public official dishonestly asks for, receives, or agrees to receive a benefit for themself or another person, and does so with the intention that the exercise of his or her official duties will be influenced. It is also an offence for a Commonwealth public official to ask for, receive, or agree to receive a benefit with the intention of inducing, fostering, or sustaining a belief that the exercise of the official’s duties will be influenced.

An individual could be liable under this provision for conduct that takes place overseas, so long as it involved a Commonwealth public official.


Foreign bribery

Section 70 of the Criminal Code criminalises the bribery of foreign public officials. Under this section, it is an offence to:

  • Provide, offer, or cause a benefit to be provided to another person,
  • Where that benefit is not legitimately due to that person,
  • With the intent to influence the exercise of a foreign public official’s duties,
  • In order to obtain business or a business advantage.


Proposed new corporate offence of failure to prevent foreign bribery

On 2 December 2019, the Australian Government introduced the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Combatting Corporate Crime) Bill 2019 into Parliament.

The Bill proposes a new corporate offence for failure to prevent foreign bribery by an associate of a body corporate. However, the offence will not apply if the corporation can show it had adequate procedures in place designed to prevent the commission of foreign bribery.

The government developed a draft adequate procedures guidance and invited interested parties to provide feedback by 28 February 2020. A final version of the guidance addressing the feedback received is to be published before the new corporate offence for foreign bribery commences. However, as of April 2022, the Bill is still before the House of Representatives and has not yet passed into law.


Defences: Facilitation payment

A facilitation payment is a minor payment made to a foreign public official for the purpose of speeding up minor routine government action and is recognised under Australian law. Such a payment is legislatively recognised in Australia as a complete defence to the core foreign bribery offence in the Criminal Code Act 1995. However, it is recognised that differentiating between a facilitation payment and a bribe can be difficult.



For individuals, both domestic and foreign bribery carry a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment or a fine of 10,000 penalty units. Under section 4AA of the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) a penalty unit is $222 from 1 July 2020, so the maximum fine is $2,220,000.

For corporations, the maximum penalty is a fine not more than the greatest of the following:

  • A fine of up to 100,000 penalty units ($22,200,000), or
  • Three times the value of the benefit (if it can be determined), or
  • If the value of the benefit cannot be determined, 10 per cent of the annual turnover of the company during a 12-month period (concluding at the end of the month in which the offending conduct occurred).


NSW laws against bribery

Part 4A of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) was designed to deal with corruption in the private sector, but in effect also criminalises a range of bribery offences, both public and private.

Under section 249B it is a crime for an agent to receive or solicit, or for a person to give or offer, any benefit in the following circumstances:

  • As an inducement or reward for doing something or showing favour to any person in relation to the agent’s affairs or business, or
  • Where the receipt of the benefit would “tend to influence” the agent to show favour to any person in relation to the agent’s affairs or business.

The term “agent” includes but is not limited to:

  • Any person employed by or acting on behalf of another person,
  • Any person serving under the Crown,
  • A police officer, or
  • A councillor under the Local Government Act 1993 (NSW).

Even if the benefit was not offered specifically as an inducement or reward, but would “tend to influence” the agent, the person could still be found guilty.

In both instances, the maximum penalty is seven years imprisonment.

The Crimes Act also contains a range of other offences that are relevant to corruption such as fraud, embezzlement, and perverting the course of justice.


Common law offence of bribery

The common law offence of bribery is committed by the receiving or offering of an undue reward by or to any person in public office, in order to influence that person’s behaviour, and to incline that person to act contrary to accepted rules of honesty and integrity. This can apply with the mere offer of a corrupt inducement, even if the offer is rejected.

Common law bribery can also occur by the making or offering of a payment with an intent to incline a person in public office to disregard his or her duty at some future time. The occasion for the disregard of duty need not have arisen at the time of the offence, and it need never arise.


Anti-bribery measures


Whistleblower protections

One way of strengthening anti-bribery measures is to introduce protections for those who expose corrupt conduct. The Treasury Laws Amendment (Enhancing Whistleblower Protections) Act 2019 took effect in 2019 to strengthen whistleblower protections in the following Commonwealth legislation:

  • The Corporations Act 2001 – to consolidate and broaden the existing protections and remedies for corporate and financial sector whistleblowers.
  • The Taxation Administration Act 1953 – to create a whistleblower protection regime for disclosures of information by individuals regarding breaches of the tax laws or misconduct relating to an entity’s tax affairs.
  • The Banking Act 1959, Insurance Act 1973, Life Insurance Act 1995, and Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993, to make consequential amendments.


Combatting bribery in business

According to an OECD paper on this topic, common managerial approaches to combatting bribery include having clear, detailed codes of conduct, financial record keeping, statements by executive officers, internal monitoring, whistle-blowing facilities, creation of compliance offices, and taking disciplinary action.


Anti-corruption commissions


Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC)

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) combats corruption offences in NSW. This includes situations where a NSW public official abuses their official role, and where another person influences an official to abuse their role.

The ICAC has powers similar to those of a Royal Commission and can compel witnesses to testify in both public and private hearings.

Learn more


National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC)

The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) works to combat serious corrupt conduct involving Commonwealth public officials.

The NACC is empowered by legislation to conduct investigations into relevant corruption issues such as a public official’s abuse of office or breach of public trust.

Learn more


Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between active and passive bribery?

Offering a bribe (even if the offer is rejected) is called “active bribery”, while accepting or requesting a bribe is called “passive bribery”. Both offering someone a bribe and accepting a bribe could be a criminal offence.

What is the difference between lobbying and bribery?

Lobbying can be defined as campaign contributions or the buying of influence, intended to change existing rules or policies relevant for the lobbying entity. Bribery is a form of public corruption and involves the illegal use of public power and resources for personal gain, aimed at bending existing rules or policies. Lobbying is usually legal, but bribery is illegal.

Is every incentive considered a bribe?

No, not every incentive is a bribe. Commissions and bonuses are a common and legitimate part of business dealings. They benefit a company’s efficiency and productivity and help to reward agents.

Additionally, “facilitation payments” are not considered foreign bribery offences under the Criminal Code Act. A facilitation payment is a small payment made to a foreign public official to speed up a minor routine government action.

Can I be prosecuted for bribery offences committed overseas?

Yes. One of the distinguishing features of the Commonwealth legislation mentioned earlier is its territorial provisions. The offence has been designed to cover both:

  • Conduct alleged to have occurred in Australia or onboard an Australian aircraft or ship, and
  • Conduct that occurs outside Australia where the accused is an Australian citizen or resident, or the company is incorporated in Australia.

Which agencies investigate bribery and corruption in Australia?

Bribery and corruption are typically investigated by:

  • State police,
  • Australian Federal Police, and
  • Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

Other institutions like the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) investigate instances of corruption in the public sector.

Where can I learn more about corruption issues?

Transparency International is an international non-governmental organisation that aims to combat corruption globally through civil societal anti-bribery and corruption measures. It publishes a range of in-depth reports on what causes corruption and how to prevent it. Its “Corruption Perceptions Index” ranks countries by their levels of public sector corruption.

How can we help?

We provide expert advice and representation in complex bribery and corruption matters across multiple jurisdictions.

Book a consultation if you require assistance.

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